Dr Olga de Smidt is not only a genius but also an asset for the country given her outstanding academic accomplishment. Based in the Centre for Applied Food Sustainability and Biotechnology (CAFSaB) at the Central University of Technology (CUT), Dr de Smidt is the latest addition to the Future Professors Programme (FPP). Her peers and admirers welcomed her selection to the programme and hailed it as fitting recognition.
The flagship initiative of the department of higher education and training (DHET), FPP is considered one of the competitive selection programmes. It aims to prepare promising early-career researchers and academics to develop into a new corps of young qualified professors. It also targets the country’s most talented young academics, particularly women such as Dr de Smidt, to benefit from a well “structured and intense programme” to speed up their development and “readiness for the professoriate”.
Nearly lost to the academia
Dr de Smidt is among 29 applicants who were picked for the programme out of a total of 117 applicants from all 26 South African public universities. She says she was nearly lost to the academia because soon after she completed her PhD programme at the University Free State she briefly entertained the thought of working in the private sector. Fortunately, she abandoned the idea after she was invited to apply for a post-doctoral fellowship at the CUT.
Ready to join the professoriate
Says Dr de Smidt after her selection to the FPP: “It is very exciting to be part of this programme that accelerates young academics to readiness for the professoriate. I’m going into it with an open and positive mindset and a commitment to work hard and give it my best. I’m also eager to meet with the other participants, to foster new collaborations and see what the future holds.” Dr de Smidt has also shown some leadership qualities, for instance, currently she is the deputy director of CAFSaB. In addition, she is the co-founder and director of a water quality laboratory, Test It LAB, the only privately owned accredited water laboratory in the Free State.
Dr de Smidt has also received some covetable awards. In the past 10 years she received:
- NRF research grants in both the Thuthuka and Competitive Support for Unrated Researchers programmes (CSUR).
- She has authored the most cited article in the yeast research journal FEMS and published an article in Letters in Applied Microbiology which was named the “editor’s choice”.
- She received the CUT Dean’s trophy for the best research publication in the faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences on 5 occasions and
- She was awarded the CUT Vice Chancellor’s medal for excellence as Novice researcher of the year as well as for Innovation.
Dr de Smidt believes she was cut for her profession because naturally she is the kind of a person who likes to learn new things. “I have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning excites me. I’m curious, always on the lookout for new and interesting information. I want to know about everything and constantly ask questions to propel me to learn even more,” she says.
She says she enjoys asking new and engaging critical questions that require constant engagement as a way of searching for answers. Dr de Smidt says: “Research and development are the perfect world for constantly asking new and difficult questions, never getting tired of the process of searching for answers. This also means keeping up with the fast-evolving technological world by being surrounded by young people who are excited about making a difference and changing the world.”